Not too long ago, networking consisted of walking into a huge meeting room at your local hotel or a large business site and handing out business cards to as many people as you could. Now that is all but ancient history. Networking today can build your sales, but only if you heed the new rules.
Successful networking nowadays means bringing a sincere interest in helping others instead of a box of cards and brochures; shelving your selling fervor in favor of making genuine acquaintances; and recognizing that creating reciprocal relationships will pay off much greater in the long run than any possible quick sale. Sure, bring your business cards, but keep a tight grip on them to use when follow-up appears mutually beneficial.
Elevator speeches are just as relevant as ever. But instead of breathlessly spilling your guts about yourself and what you do, simply introduce yourself, share who you best serve, and clearly and concisely explain how you ease their pain.
Contemporary networking is all about building relationships and expanding your own circle of personal and business friendships. Down the road, after appropriate follow-up and maybe a meeting or two at the local Starbucks, your networking partner may turn into a customer. Or you may become a referral instead. Right now, however, view the networking event as an opportunity for enlightenment:
- The old way: Meet as many people as possible and make sure you tell them what you do in the hope that a few may jump at your offer of services or products.
- The new way: Spend more time getting to know those with whom you meet, paving the way for what eventually may turn into a mutually rewarding relationship.
Ever catch yourself at a networking event looking around the room as you shake hands with that person by the refreshment table? It’s important to eliminate that constant surveillance for potential prospects. Maintain eye focus on the person with whom you are speaking and listen attentively. If you feel compelled to break it off, politely excuse yourself. In today’s environment, respect is absolute.
That’s all part of what Keith Ferrazzi refers to as generosity, a major component of creating deep, lasting relationships. Ferrazzi, the author of the books Never Eat Alone and Who’s Got Your Back, says connecting is a constant process of giving and receiving that starts with a genuine interest in the other person.
Ferrazzi also advocates learning, if possible, who is planning to attend an event and positioning yourself in such a way as to meet and talk with those with whom you most are interested. That makes a networking event all that more productive, helps you avoid the “wandering eye” syndrome, and plants the seeds for your follow-up activities that may develop sincere and rewarding relationships.
People do business with those they know and trust or with those their associates know and trust. Diane Helbig, a business coach (Seize This Day Coaching) who excels at networking, says that building relationships is the first step before actually selling. This explains why following up with those you meet at networking events is essential.
Ever wonder why you don’t hear from someone you slipped a business card at a recent event? Helbig insists it is up to you to write a note, express your delight in the meeting, and take responsibility for promoting the budding relationship.
Lori Richardson, an AllBusiness.com blogger on selling relationships and a sales trainer (Score More Sales) and author, uses the same principles voiced by Ferrazzi and Helbig. One of Biznik.com’s top ambassadors for real-time events, Richardson insists that when you aren’t intending to directly sell others in the room, it puts you and everyone else at ease. Her advice: Learn about others and then see who might make an interesting connection. Simply ask questions of the other person and say very little about yourself. That person will think you are the most interesting person around.
The key is following up. Richardson does her pre-event homework on the attendees she believes would be good connections. The networking event then becomes a more valuable use of her time, paying off in post-event activities that build relationships.
Paul Simon is contributing sales editor for AllBusiness.com and communications director for TopSalesExperts.com. He owns SharperContent, a communication business that refines written messages in blogs, newsletters, books, and Web sites and hosts Web seminars for sales authors and entrepreneurs.